You know what, you guys? I just lied to you. Because this special edition of ADVICE! For COMMENTERS actually… does not contain a whole lot of advice. Instead, it is devoted to how wacky and divergent the response to “Inappropriate Language” has been. (Annnnnnnd, Sexist Beatdown may or may not be about this same deal, SPOILER, this week Tiger Beatdown is a single-issue blog.) There are conflicting thoughts on this issue, as it turns out! Here, we examine three fairly critical – and honestly, expected – responses, and I cover bits of thought and context that inevitably get left out of even the most comically and overwhelmingly long blog posts.
Let’s examine, shall we?
#1: The Problem With Gay People Is, Sometimes Some Of Them Get Offended By Me Saying Stuff About Gay People
I generally agree with this sentiment, but you seemed to totally ignore the original paradigm shift of Gay meaning Happy to Gay meaning Homosexual. It IS entirely possible for that shift to happen, and I think that people who want to be treated equal and get that shift to happen need to also understand that equal is a good and a bad thing.
Equality seems to be glorified as having people treat you well, when in actuality equality is people treating you with neutrality on the underlying topic that caused the disturbance. If gay people don’t flip out at the use of the term, the shift is more likely to happen.
Now, retard I understand as people with mental disabilities can’t defend themselves generally, but I personally have no real contact with a mentally disabled person so I’ve yet to bother censoring myself in using retard as something stupid. I’m still going to so lower class people against the health care reform are retards.
Okay, serious thing: obviously whether or not you use certain words has a lot to do with your social context and who’s around you and what understandings you have with each other. Like, not for a minute do I want to suggest that every single gay person in the entire world got together and handed out a memo that said “that’s so gay” is super-offensive and you can’t use it any more. Because that is ridonkulous, and makes gay people sound like they share a super-organized Borg mind. Of course different people are going to have different feelings about the word, and there’s no one concrete program of Correct and Non-Offensive Word Usage that always applies in every circumstance. Some people might be offended if you took special care not to use the word.
Our usage of words is, of course, affected by our history. I use “crazy,” in part because I’ve had some feedback to the effect that consciously not using it is infantilizing and condescending, and avoiding the word as if it were poison makes it way more powerful and damaging than it has to be, more powerful and damaging, in fact, than using it without being scared of what it might do. IF NOBODY SAYS THE C-WORD, WE CAN PRETEND NOTHING IS GOING ON! Yeah, but no. Another example: my dudefriend’s mom happened to be a lesbian, and occasionally he’ll use the word “dykes” in this really casual tone, which shocked and startled me, until I figured out that the casual and affectionate use of the word was probably part of how he grew up, and a big part of his experience with the word itself. As opposed to, like, my experience of the word “dykes,” which was only ever said in a hateful, malicious tone of voice, and even “lesbians” was said in this very careful notice-how-I’m-not-saying-”dykes” tone. His relationship to the word is different from mine, so his usage differs, and one thing I’m not going to do is legislate his usage, because that would be super-stupid. I’ll let other people legislate mine, to a certain degree, in interpersonal situations, because that is just part of respecting people: for example, I sometimes use the word “queer” to mean GLBTQI folks, because it is my impression that it is the most inclusive word and one which has been substantially reclaimed and put into circulation as a positive, and also because people make a scrunchy face sometimes when you rattle off all the initials and there’s always a chance you might miss one, but when a gay co-worker heard me use it, he was like, “um, ‘gay,’ please. Or the initials.” And, like: that’s cool! Your call, Mister! You just apologize, maybe explain a bit if you can do it without being defensive or making a big OH MY GOD I USED THE WRONG WORD COMFORT AND FORGIVE ME MR. GAY MAN, SPEAK NO ILL OF ME TO YOUR BORG MIND drama out of it, and move on with the thing that you know isn’t going to hurt the person you’re talking to. Language is, among other things, something that gets worked out socially. So, like: just be cool, obey the basic rules of politeness, and you should be fine! All right?
I do avoid saying some things even when I know no-one in my surroundings will be personally offended by them. People might have zero issue with me calling another lady a “cunt” or saying I got raped by X, Y, or Z unpleasant life event, but I’m still not going to say it. Because ultimately, when I choose not to use a word, it’s because I find it offensive. Me. It sounds offensive, coming out of my mouth; I do it for myself. I can’t make anyone else’s choices for them, and really, when I choose not to use a word, people tend not to notice, because I don’t make it into a big production: I just don’t use it. It’s not a big deal. But, oddly, saying why you do it gets more negative feedback than actually doing it. I can’t make you say or not say anything, people, jokes about Official Tiger Beatdown Programs aside. All I can do is maybe disagree. And, honestly, if I tell you that I disagree with you, and you are not an Internet stranger on my blog comment section, odds are that I know you well enough to care about your feelings during the disagreement: the very worst thing that would happen, if we had a drink and you said something I didn’t like, is that I would say, “I don’t really feel that way,” and maybe have a conversation with you if that seemed like an option. If the thought of a 5’4 brunette woman in a cardigan saying the words “I disagree” is genuinely scary or hurtful or offensive to you, maybe you need to think twice about your positions in regard to the overly sensitive. Just saying.
Which is not really what this commenter’s argument boils down to, which is why it probably doesn’t deserve a thought-out response. Really it’s just the same old, “not my bad words! My precious, precious bad words! You can take my life, but you can never take: MY FREEEEEDOOOMMMMMMM.” To not find a synonym, apparently, because if you care so much about words you would think that you’d know more of them and be able to replace them in relatively innovative ways that don’t dull or distort what you are saying.
#2: Let’s Just Get Rid of ALL the Words!
I’m a recent convert to not using pejorative language myself, and it’s hard! I really liked this post, and you are so right that appearing to do the right thing just isn’t enough, but I happened to notice that you missed a couple yourself, though. You used dumb and fucked up as pejoratives. Fuck and crazy are the ones I struggle with most myself right now.
Earlier today, I said that this comment made me want to “stab myself in the face,” which I guess was not nice, because the commenter means well and all. But the arguments against using “fuck” (that it construes sex as a violent, unwanted act – so “fuck you” would be a coded rape threat, by this theory, and “fucked up” I guess would be a reference to sex as destroying or damaging someone) just strike me as, you know, WRONG, because “fuck” means a lot of different things in different contexts, many of those things non-sexual, and I thought I had written this very careful thing about how we should pay attention to how people use words, rather than going by some prescriptivist definition of them even when that is not how they are actually being employed. But, for the record: I’ve thought about “fuck,” I’ve read the arguments for and against “fuck,” and you guys, I am KEEPING “FUCK.” I am a girl who likes to swear, and that is a good swear, and I don’t think its meanings are sexual by default, so I am keeping it. Also, “douche.” Remember when “douche” was a feminist controversy? Ha, yeah. That was a silly time in all our lives.
“Dumb” is trickier; I’m processing a discussion about that, actually, right now. My original thought was that “dumb” as in “unable to speak” and “dumb” as in “stupid” are homonyms, in that the conflation of muteness and lack of intelligence is outdated and disproven, and that the vast majority of people don’t use “dumb” to mean “stupid” with any thought of or recognition of its history in disability language (as opposed to “retarded,” which is kind of inextricably linked still), and also “dumb” as a descriptor of muteness is out of date itself. But someone pointed out that people do still use “dumb” to mean “mute,” in her experience, and people do still confuse muteness with lack of intelligence, albeit because they are jackasses, and that maybe you need to actually check in with mute people to see how they feel about the word before you assume that you own it because you are Lord God Almighty Explainer and you know exactly what people ought or ought not to be hurt by. (FREEEEEEDOMMMMMMM to not find a synonym, again.) Which seems like common sense! Again, listening to people affected by stuff seems more reasonable than assuming I know how everyone ought to be affected! And yet, even considering the fact that I was wrong about the usage of it as “mute” having died out completely, and with full respect for the fact that using “dumb” to mean “mute” is hurtful, I do think “dumb” as in mute and “dumb” as in stupid have undergone substantial distancing, to the point that they are homonyms; so. I’m tabling the discussion until I can get a better grip on it.
I guess the thing is, my argument in the original post looks like some arguments I disagree with on the side of free pejorative use, and it also looks like some arguments I disagree with in favor of language limitation, so obviously people are going to respond to it as if it is both arguments. Oh, well!
#3: Man Hater! MAN HATERRRRRRRR!
While I found this post to be very insightful, and I enjoyed reading it, I still couldn’t help but be slightly offended by her blatant hatred for men and their apparent combined view of women as inferior, unless of course the man is gay, in which case he is conveniently on her side because he has been the victim of the thoughtless use of words.
Yes, Palin is retarded, and I’m sorry if someone is offended by my saying that, but when I refer to a medical diagnosis, I say”mentally handicapped” or “downs syndrome” because I am aware that the word retarded is frequently used in our society with a negative connotation toward people who do stupid things, but rather than attack the people who are going along with the rest of society, it makes more sense to me to just take the path of least resistance…
This goes on for several hundred words, you guys. Do you have the energy for that? I don’t have the energy for that. But let’s just skip to the heart of it, which is:
While the author had a lot to say about people being offensive, she seems to think that it does not matter if she offends men.
You know, I really DON’T care, sometimes! Except for all the times when I kind of do. It depends on the man, I guess? For example: this guy. I don’t really care that I have offended him! Surprising, right? In fact, this is what I am working toward, my beautiful utopian cuddle-party future: a place where we can all feel free to insult and offend each other based on who we are, and not what we are. A place in which I have the complete freedom to call upon each and every one of my fellow citizens to take a lick on some Chipotle-BBQ-flavored extra-crunchy My Asshole, should they happen to annoy me for completely fair and non-prejudicial reasons, and they have the freedom to respond in kind. Is that not a dream worth working for? I ask you: is it not?